Whatever you might say about the professionalism controversies in England in the 1880s, it was the case then, and has been ever since, that practically all the actual football is played by amateurs.
Snopes-type legends about amateur football abound. About street football, which is alleged to have honed ballplaying skills so well – you can see an October 1930 clip of a street game here and decide for yourself. (British Movietone: registration possibly required). In other countries, it’s beach football, or a relationship between football and forms of dance, forms of self-defence, or football and dances which are self-defence in disguise.
At any rate, the Snopes-style myth connects poverty with skill on the ball.
South American countries were the first to truly value that kind of skill, and were the first to use football as a specific means of national self-expression. Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina went from football beginners to the best in the World in about 20 years – i.e. their very first footballing generation came up trumps (I’m assuming here that the 1924-1930 Uruguayans were a match for England and Scotland, which they almost certainly were).
By modern standards, these were poor countries whose kids did not allow poverty to keep them from taking up the craze. But I wonder. Not all of their best players came from the humblest backgrounds. And the pre-War period was South America’s golden age of growth and reform and relative prosperity.
Things are getting better in parts of Africa, but for much of the continent, “golden age of growth and reform and relative prosperity” aren’t the ones you’d choose to describe, say, 1970-1995. I’d like to know more than I do about the comparative levels of coaching and football education in early-century South America as compared to post-colonial Africa.
The dry weight of this 1893 ball might actually be less than the dry weight of the new 2010 World Cup ball
The argument over the ball at the 2010 World Cup has brought to the fore, once again, the fact that even otherwise well-informed fans don’t always know the laws of the game.
It is a myth that the modern ball is lighter than the balls used in the past.
Since 1937, the dry weight of the ball has been specified by Law 2: 14-16oz. Prior to that, the rules governing the ball’s dry weight specified something lighter - 13-15oz.
This goes for the new ball used in 2010 just as much as it did for the 1966 ball. Whenever you read a comment along the lines of “I’d like to see modern players heading the leather pudding the ’66 boys had to put up with” you can assume that they don’t know what they’re talking about.
What has changed are (1) the material from which the ball is made, and thus the ability of the ball to avoid weight gain during the game through water absorption, and (2) the aerodynamics of the ball i.e. the smoothness of the surface.
The new ball isn’t lighter in of itself - which is what people seem to be assuming: but the new ball won’t get so wet in play. So in the broad sunshine of the ’66 World Cup Final, the famous orange balls were the same weight as the ones we see today. And so it has been on every dry day, on every dry pitch, since the balls were first standardized in the early 1870s.
Lecture inspired by a comment on Alex Massie’s TNT piece here – because I wasn’t able to comment there. As usual with the sort of places Alex posts at, onerous signing-up procedures loom..
Steve Bloomer: 19 goals in 23 England Appearances 1895-1907
The first edition of James Corbett’s “England Expects: A History of the England Football Team” has sat somewhere near my desk since about a fortnight after its initial publication. There hadn’t really been a proper full England history before. Of course, there’d been books about England managers - but that’s not quite the same thing, and in any event, by the time Ramsey was appointed, the first proper England manager as we know them, English international football was already 90 years old. So Corbett’s huge red hardback, which combined concise match reporting from the very start, concentrated on players and audience as much as managers, and in sharp, clean prose avoided all of the usual laddish clichees, was extremely welcome.
The second edition is a reillustrated, tightened-up paperback, and it gives a reader confidence when a photograph of Edwardian striking star Steve Bloomer is captioned author’s own collection. For James Corbett, the first half century of international football – 1870-1920 – isn’t the usual source of sneering fun, and his account has none of the usual sense that writers give of waiting for the real business to begin. So this is the best short account of the amateur-versus-professional controversy. The wealthy pioneers like Lord Kinnaird are proper sportsmen, not moustache-twiddling sexual obsessives. Snobbery is not the only reason keeping the Football Association out of FIFA. Professional league football is not the usual unmitigated triumph for the working man. Corbett lets the game grow in its own time and context, and that time and context are assuredly not ours.
Even non-fiction accounts, when done properly, fall into one or another of the seven plots, and there’s an enjoyable debate to be had about which one the England football team follows and at what speed. The usual unconscious pick of football writers is decline, fall, recovery, triumph! fall again, recovery, Gazzamania, and (insert blur of journalism to bring us “up to date”). Corbett avoids this. The inter-war period, badly filmed and so little-known to most fans, is closely covered without distracting references to past and future, making good use of what are actually fairly extensive primary autobiographical sources. The great England side of the war years and after – Lawton, Mannion, Matthews, Finney, Carter and co. – are recorded and celebrated for their own sake, not for that of Hungary and 1953.
Not that 1953 came out of the blue: Corbett incorporates it into a longer account of relative decline after the wartime side broke up, and remarks that the 6-3 defeat itself caused less upset amongst the game’s players and administrators than you might think. 1950-55 was one of a number of the fallow periods that England’s team have passed through – the 1920s, either side of Dixie Dean, was another, and so was 1975-80, and 1991-5. How would the Hungarians of ’53 gotten on against the Byrne-Edwards-Taylor England of 1957, or the Charlton-Greaves England of 1962? England’s recovery after the 1954 World Cup, in both club and international terms, was real enough, and Corbett’s chapter about those sunnier last years of the Winterbottom regime is headed by a fine meditative photo of Stanley Matthews besuited, new holder of the ballon d’or, gazing into the future from the sand dunes at Blackpool.
That future would be one in which England built three separate teams, in the space of twelve years, which were capable of frightening anyone, even the 1970 Brazilians. Three good sides – without revolutions in training, without changes to the league system (save the scrapping of the regional divisions in favour of a national Division Four), and without reform at the FA. Some things had changed: the ’57-58 pre-Munich side were the best nourished in history, thanks to rationing, and, thanks to education reforms and Walter Winterbottom, many of the ’66 and ’70 sides had received proper coaching in good conditions at school at the right age. But the biggest change of all was the ending of committee selection, partially under Winterbottom and finally under Ramsey. Corbett’s long, detailed examination of Ramsey’s construction of the ’66 side against strong and vocal opposition is the deserved highlight of the book. If you want to know what the verrou system is, you’ll have to buy a copy.
What follows ’66 is a kind of flatlining: the endless, exhausting efforts to do it again, to retrieve some footballing self-esteem, all while the game goes on about its own, quite separate business elsewhere. There are ways to make sense of this. It comes back to plot again: and Corbett, confronted by the triumph/disaster dichotomy that night/days its way out of the mouths of fans and journalists, opts instead for theme:
the insatiable burden of expectation facing our footballers and the way they have often been overwhelmed by it..shattered dreams and unyielding expectation (stretching from) origins among the mid-Victorians through to a modern era defined by money, massive egos and chronic underachievement(..) the monstrous expectation.. rears its head again and again and in so many different ways. There is, alas, no happy ending.
But there is happiness along the way. Hudson’s match in 1975 against West Germany; Keegan and Brooking’s attacking 2-0 Wembley win over Italy two years later; the vindication of Bobby Robson and Alan Shearer’s romp in the sunshine against Holland. Before that game, Terry Venables summed it up: “We are inclined to be a nation (which thinks) we are the worst team in the world or the best. Neither is true.”
The final chapters cover England’s progress during what will have been the period of James Corbett’s own writing career. Unlike many journalists, he’s resisted the temptation to place himself at the centre of events, appearing only when doing so adds an essential psychological point (Corbett’s meeting with Steve McClaren six months before the future Eredivisie winner’s England sacking for example). Nor, while writing about the unbearable expectations placed on England, does he overpromote the issue: what keeps us interested, in the end, isn’t expectation, he says, but something lighter and better: hope.
England Expects is fully footnoted and contains a comprehensive bibliography and is published by De Coubertin at £12.99.
I’ve just been groping through piles of statistics and have come across a thoroughly melancholy fact, namely that there are no survivors of England’s pre-War internationals.
The earliest international match for which we have a living English representative is Northern Ireland v England on 28th September 1946: Sir Tom Finney (b. 5th April 1922) scored on his war-delayed debut.
But there’s relief in that Sir Tom isn’t actually the oldest surviving international: that honour belongs to Phil Taylor of Liverpool, born on 18th September 1917. Taylor actually made his league debut on 28th March 1936, so we are still in the company of pre-War footballers, if only just.
Bert Williams, goalkeeper against the USA in 1950, is also still in the land of the living. “The Cat” may be the oldest surviving player with a nickname: he was born on 31st January 1920.
All this means that there are at least three former league players who predate the grouping of the railways.
Here’s Sir Tom Finney, combining with Sir Stanley Matthews to score against Uruguay in the 1954 World Cup:
So many people, and so many of them young. The market is every bit as crowded today, but the age mix is quite different. In 1903, Petticoat Lane was no longer towards London’s eastern edge. Beyond it now lay mile upon mile of Victorian brick terraces, still new: Bow, Silvertown, East and West Ham, Hackney, and, further north, Stoke Newington and Tottenham. A new city as large as the old one had been built in little over 30 years.
That new city contained many of London’s football clubs, and the clubs’ presence there tells us a lot about the game, about urban and population growth and about just how a new area came to find its identity. Identity is a problem, when you’re cheek by jowl by a city built by the Romans. Identity is a problem when your area looks exactly the same as every other new area that has appeared on the outskirts of old cities.
A new professional football club needs two things: space in which to build, and a sizeable, rapidly growing audience within easy reach of it. Those two factors were present together in an economically viable way in the north before London and the south. The north had spare land, yet a densely-packed and rapidly growing population in areas that lacked the diversions and entertainments that established settlements could turn to.
And it had expertise. The football stadiuim was a new form of architecture. Northern urban industry was posing all kinds of new challenges to building and architectural firms, and the ideas that arose to solve those challenges also proved relevant when it came to Goodison Park, St James’ Park and Old Trafford.
At the end of the nineteenth century, before the rise of cinema, there was a period of opportunity in which a football ground would offer the principle form of mass entertainment in an area. No theatre could hold as many people as Old Trafford – with a football stadium, you could surround your stage on all sides with revenue-earning audience space. Most of a football ground was made up of standing terraces, too, so you could pack as many people in as you were able.
The football stadium was a weapon in a sporting arms race. Businessmen had to wield it before their local rivals. Local businessmen bought up the clubs that the churches and factories had founded, built huge grounds for them, and fought tooth and nail to get their clubs into the best possible league structure available to them as quickly as cash and corruption could carry them. Time was short – no one knew how long the football craze would last.
The great British stadia went up in a fifteen year frenzy between 1895 (Goodison) and 1910 (Old Trafford). That surge of construction ceased with the end of dense urban population surge. After World War One, the cities would go into middle-aged spread: suburban semis and flats now, not terraces. Football’s youth and moment of opportunity had passed.
There are two aspects to nineteenth century urban population growth that show why football, although no longer in its astonishing phase of growth, survived and persisted after World War One. They show how a craze could become a national institution, a sport as intrinsically British as cricket or steeplechasing.
The first is the astonishing growth in the British population across the last two thirds of the nineteenth century. The famous pre-industrial cities of Britain – Edinburgh, Bristol, Norwich, Glasgow,Bath, London, Cambridge, Oxford, Salisbury, St Andrews, Aberdeen, Chester etc. – were established in a recognisable form with still-familiar street patterns before the Reformation. They were the population centres of a pre-industrial Britain whose population swung up and down between two millon (1377) and six million (1342 and 1750). By comparison, about 1.5 million people attend league matches alone at Old Trafford each season. By 1850, the population had surged to 16 million. By 1901, with Goodison Park up and running, it had almost doubled again, reaching 30.5 million.
What is the psychological impact upon a United Kingdom when, within the space of less than a lifetime, there are twice as many people walking the streets? Of course, there was epic overcrowding, especially in Glasgow, which would remain the world’s most densely populated city until World War II. And there was housebuilding on a huge scale, although never enough to cope. There were, in any case, no working definitions of what “coping” would look like. But what did it feel like?
There’s surprisingly little proper work on this. John Carey’s The Intellectuals and the Masses does at least recognize that there might have been a psychological impact, but he’s content to use it as a means to humiliate the Bloomsburys by highlighting their elitist, eugenicist impulses. Wealthy, upper middle class authors, Carey says, dreamed, not of electric sheep, but of enlightened mass murder and the promotion of high culture over the right to life of the low born.
At any rate, football, and not Bloomsbury, is directly relevant to how Britain actually did cope with its swarming population. In 1848, when football pioneers Arthur Kinnaird and Quintin Hogg were in curls, the prospect of a crowd of 100,000 gathering in London inspired a kind of controlled panic in government. As Kennington Common filled with radicals and proto-socialists, London filled with soldiers. Special constables were hurriedly recruited. Snipers crowded the rooftops.
By the time Kinnaird was 54, the FA Cup Final at Crystal Palace between Sheffield United and Tottenham Hotspur could attract an estimated 115,000 people. A small number of unarmed bobbies came along to enjoy the sunshine and ice cream. This was progress. Football was helping bed in the idea that the British could assemble peacefully in large numbers without riot or disturbance.
A doubling of the population would cause disgust to Virginia Woolf and have her friends dreaming of class genocide. But Bloomsbury had missed the point. What was Crystal Palace 1901 all about, if it wasn’t the back of the newspaper coming to the rescue of the front?
Football, then, helped Britain process terrifying population growth, and demonstrated to government that, although there were twice as many people as before, those “masses” were capable of governing their lives in ways that were as civilized as any law and order obsessive could have desired. That’s not to say that there was no crowd disorder around professional football, or that professional football was respectable. There was plenty, and it wasn’t. But population growth didn’t mean crime and breakdown: it meant busy turnstiles and a brisk sale for the post-match pink ‘un.
A population that was twice the size of 1850’s didn’t fit into the old towns and cities. Even with increasing population density, 30 million Britons meant, in essence, that a new Britain, with its own new centres of population, had sprung into existence. I’ve already asked about the psychological consequences of population growth. Now I’d like to add another question. What is the psychological experience of living in a new place, with everyone an “incomer”?
If you run a list of pre-reformation towns and cities through your mind, images and symbols for each come immediately. Wells Cathedral, Salisbury Cathedral, The Tower of London, Oxford’s dreaming spires, Bath’s Roman remains. Now think of Gateshead, Middlesbrough, or Salford.
At the time of the football craze, these Coronation Street towns and cities were as new as Milton Keynes is now. They were home to many thousands of people. Only some of those people had come in from the depressed agricultural fields of Britain looking for work. By 1900, a large proportion of them were young children born to “incomers” living in new and – in truth – unlovely places. There is a rootlessness to this existence that you can actually feel.
What would create place loyalty in those circumstances? Writing of her upbringing on a 1960s council estate, Lynsey Hanley said that there were times when she longed to have come from “somewhere.” Her estate wasn’t a place in as strong a way as a Hampstead or an Edinburgh New Town was. Was it like this for the people of Victorian Gateshead or Middlesbrough?
Rather than ask where people in such places could find a sense of place or group identity for themselves, we can simply observe what happened. Liverpool’s docks are a World Heritage Site, but if Liverpool were to catch fire, most people would choose to throw Anfield and Goodison into the overnight bag instead before making their escape. (And if there’s room, the Cavern Club..)The most famous building in Manchester is a football stadium. The same can be said for Birmingham. And Stoke. And Glasgow. And Bolton, and Preston, and Leeds.
When the football craze was first underway, no one anticipated that clubs would become the focus or external identity for the new and history-deficient incomers areas in which they were built. By the time Manchester United changed their name from Newton Heath, there was an inkling of what was afoot. But even then, no one knew how long football would last: the surviving literature of the time is too astonished by what had already happened to dare to look into a crystal ball.
And what had happened? Football clubs had been among the first things in these new places with their “incomer” populations and their new but bad housing and their smoky modern air and their brash shops and their electric trams to draw the local people around something of their own, to give them a way to say “we are here, and this is us.”
Loyalty to your home town is easy if your home town is Ludlow or Tewkesbury. In Salford, in Gateshead, when they were new, and you were only there for work or by accident of birth, less so. Football helped. The surroundings might have been ugly, but your neighbours were honest, hardworking people, and your team carried that good news out to the rest of the world every time they played away from home.
These days, London is surrounded by new growth areas that appeared after the football craze had burnt itself out. Bromley, Croydon, Sutton, Morden, Norbiton, Beckenham, and Penge are home to cumulative hundreds of thousands of people. There are no famous buildings that symbolize these places for outsiders yet, and very little well-known history.
All of them are on the sites of ancient settlements, but in real terms, each of them is new, like Lindsey Hanley’s estate. What will happen there is yet to happen. Like Gateshead and Middlesbrough when those places were young, they have economic existences, not spiritual or historical ones.
These things come in time. Football helped the new ninetenth century Britain, with its 15 million new people, coalesce and find a sense of place and belonging. But walk around Sutton or Morden today, and although you’ll see plenty of Chelsea FC car stickers, it isn’t the same. In travelling time, Sutton is further from Stamford Bridge than Edinburgh is from Glasgow.
Loyalty to Chelsea, in Sutton, is a loyalty borrowed from pre-War ancestors who lived in Sands End and Fulham and moved away. Football gave Sands End a name and feel: the memory of that happening in 1905 can’t do the same to suburbs in south London in 2010. Nor can the Conference and Ryman League clubs of Sutton and Carshalton. What football did for Middlesbrough, it will probably never do again.
It’s obvious that something has changed between sex and footballers. The questions are, what? and by how much?
The what question is simple. For the last year or so I’ve been researching for a book about the gradual amelioration of British urban life between 1860 and 1939, using three very familiar things (football, sex and transport) as yardsticks. And what’s changed between sex and footballers is pornography. And, to some extent, access, which I’ll come to, but porn is the main driver here: there is anecdotal evidence that people in their teens and twenties are increasingly influenced by porn in their approach to, feelings around, and beliefs about their sex lives. It would be surprising, after all, if they were less influenced, and surprising if footballers as a group weren’t to be included in that.
It’s a democratization of an older phenomenon. Perhaps it had more glamour when the names attached to it were Anais Nin and Henry Miller, rather than Titus Bramble. The change is not that kinds of sexual activity are new, but in who is best known for taking part in them. Porn, famously, stays at the technological cutting edge, and daguerrotype nudes appear within months of the process’s invention. There are Victorian stag films which would be completely familiar, if bafflingly silent and monochrome, to any of our boys who’ve made it to front and back of the News of the World. But we know that the participants are established sex workers: the idea that an ordinary citizen would film themselves, and then make that film available, only really arrived with the advent of the portable VCR camera and the internet i.e., with the arrival of privately-accessible porn.
How much is a completely different question. What we know very little about sexual activity in the Victorian and Edwardian period. The sources are unreliable and contradictory, and the historians of the subject are, for the most part, politically motivated.
Let’s get the whole Victorian/Edwardian masturbation thing out of the way at the start. I just don’t think it was the case that the United Kingdom was gripped by the belief that masturbation was a threat to mental health. The idea was present in some circles, but never universal in any one circle. The original idea came over from France (it’s in Diderot’s Encyclopedie) and spread from Paris, then the world centre of medicine, to Britain by way of young physicians who’d gone to France to study under the masters. At the time of the reform of the English public schools, the idea was brand new and had the backing of the best minds.
William Acton is the British author of the time who takes most of the blame for the idea’s spread. But his book – The Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive System - is evidence in itself that masturbation fear was never universal, never generally accepted. Acton is aware of the gaps in the evidence trail between masturbation and mental breakdown, and his account of breakdown is in fact one of the first and best descriptions of the travails of adolescence. And he brings in alternative opinions – doctors who regard masturbation as a safe outlet; clergymen who regard human celibacy as an outlandish, unlikely and peculiar demand.
Nor did Acton paint it as a moral or religious issue. He had walked the corridors of the lock hospitals in Paris, and had seen more than most men what the new wave of sexually transmitted diseases could do to you. In the absence of any effective treatments, other ways had to be found. He himself supported the series of Contagious Diseases Acts which went through near-empty Houses of Commons late on hot summer nights: these set plain clothes units from the Met loose on garrison towns and ports, arresting any woman suspected of being a prostitute and subjecting her, on pain of imprisonment, to gynaecological examination.
The exact proportion of men in the British Army who were affected by sexually transmitted disease, in the age before antibiotics is unknown, but is thought to be between one third and one half. Although that will have been higher than in the general population, you can extrapolate that the possibility of contracting disease would act as a downward pressure on sexual activity overall, and extend that downward pressure through to the end of the nineteenth century.
Sexually transmitted disease is one reason, then, why Victorian and Edwardian footballers might have been less sexually active than their post-War counterparts. Masturbation fear isn’t.
What about the sexual culture from which Victorian and Edwardian players were taken?
The lives of Arthur Kinnaird and Quintin Hogg, who were both closely involved in the first unofficial internationals in the early 1870s, were almost certainly atypical. Their families were closely connected with Lord Shaftesbury, and both men had been personally influenced by the American evangelist Moody. Their Eton and Cambridge playing contemporaries, by and large, were not, and would have enjoyed 1860s London, the last real rakehell’s decade, to the full. Hogg himself campaigned against the sex industry in his early twenties – and was on the end of two murder attempts for his pains.
The professionals of 1885 and after came from industrial cities, and we have some decent first-hand accounts of the atmosphere in which they’d have been working prior to taking the game up full-time. Both Robert Roberts (growing up in Edwardian Salford) and the Hammerman Poet Alfred Williams (in Swindon Works in the time of Churchward) report the air turning blue with innuendo and foul language: Roberts’ account is crowded with rumours of extra-marital relationships and entertaining raids on brothels by mobhanded housewives (and he has one quite heartbreaking tale of a reformed prostitute who lived her last 25 years quite blamelessly, but who was forever after shut out by her neighbours).
Roberts’ account is particularly interesting because in his Salford, it’s the sportsmen who are the cock of the walk, the toast of the local pubs, and given the pick of the local women.
But exactly how much extra-marital activity was going on is almost impossible to tell. My own guess – and that’s all it is, a guess – is that there wasn’t much. Throughout this period, the educated opinion was that the poorer the area, the less respectable the behaviour of the inhabitants – throw in here phenomena such as illegitimate births, wife-selling, child prostitution and so forth. Even as late as the 1930s, Mass Observation went to Bolton and Blackpool expecting to find widespread extra-marital sex (they found only two instances, one of which included their own observer).
In fact, what little first-hand evidence of slum life survives points away from the poverty=sex equation, at least in the cities. Living ten to a room actually seems to have exaggerated the desire to act respectably: the children of the time, looking back in old age, could not remember ever having seen their parents unclothed, and generally do not remember any hint of sexual activity whatsoever. Girls and boys could grow up in Salford, by Roberts’ account, quite ignorant of the facts of life. Blue talk and malicious rumour seem, in Salford at any rate, to have taken the place of any or at least most actual..action.
The different accounts of Quintin Hogg and Henry Mayhew concur (and William Acton, writing in the 1850s, agreed) that the majority of women who entered prostitution in the Victorian urban environment did so because their breadwinner had died, leaving the wife destitute but with children to feed. Sewing, the other option, often did not pay enough to pay for food, shelter, heat and other essential costs, which was why the Hoggs and Kinnairds involved themselves in a large scale scheme to employ seamstresses at wages higher than the market could supply unassisted. The urge to be respectable overrode everything short of starvation, and even then, some chose to starve and the rest pleaded for understanding and mitigation.
In any case, the market for prostitution seems to have declined rapidly after 1870, as did the proportion of illegitimate births, and some opinion links both of these phenomena to the contemporaneous arrival on the scene of Charles Goodyear’s rubber factories.
Roberts remembers the effect of condom use in Edwardian Salford. It was just as you’d expect: the alpha males boasting to local women that they tested all their rubbers very thoroughly before use – no chance of the shame of pregnancy if you come with me!
So the sex lives of Victorian and Edwardian footballers would have been subject to conflicting pressures. Although they would have been the well-paid, sporting alpha males in their districts, disease, overcrowding and the demands of respectability would have acted as natural controls, whereas the arrival of relatively reliable contraception would have pushed things the other way.
What about the men themselves?
Again, the sources – at least as they’ve been used up until now – aren’t able to give a clear picture. Those players who went on into journalism, men like John Cameron, tended to play lip service to Arnoldian sporting values. Because they saw it necessary to deplore drinking and smoking, it’s reasonable to suppose that these were rife in the game. They don’t mention sex, nor eve hint at it, and neither do the critics and opponents of the game. When Chelsea F.C. were founded in 1905, the local newspapers were worried about gambling and fan violence, not sexual misbehaviour.
Until the 1930s, also, many top teams, especially Newcastle and Huddersfield, contained men who were vocally committed to Christianity and a teetotal lifestyle. Huddersfield’s great 1920s team had at least two lay preachers in its first XI. The evangelical campaigns that began with the Hogg and Kinnaird families ran long and deep.
It’s worth remembering, also, that footballers were relatively well-paid – until 1901, and the advent of the maximum wage, some were very well paid indeed, more and more each year. This helped them marry young – practically every player who died as a result of accident or disease (and many did) left a wife and family.
None of this translates into Edwardian versions of the famous modern nightclub scene, in which young, fit, wealthy footballers attract a competing crowd of women. It suggests only that a Victorian or Edwardian player would have had some additional access compared to his peers on the factory floor, but that there existed some very strong downward pressures that would limit the extent to which he would take advantage of it.
These factors probably remained in place until the late 1960s at the very earliest. Nightclub scenes of the News of the World variety do seem to be a relatively recent development, and it’s hard not to see it as a function of the players’ sheer earning power rather than the softer status playing alone can provide. It’s a shift from sex being available if you want it, to sex being practically thrust upon you every time you go out. I’m reminded of an anecdote about Manchester United from the 1990s. Team and board were out celebrating one of Ferguson’s early triumphs. They were clubbing, and there were women aplenty. But they weren’t mobbing the players. It was Martin Edwards, the millionaire chairman, who was receiving all the attention. Make of that what you will.
The tragedy of the 100+ Mitchell and Kenyon films is in their length, or lack of it. Getting a real idea of what an Edwardian soccer match was like from any one of them or all of them is next to impossible. This example, Newcastle United v Liverpool at St James’s Park in 1901, is about the best of the bunch.
I suppose one of the best teams there has ever been was that claimed by Newcastle United for ten years or so before the War and that part which so many of them have since played in the game indicates that they were intellectually above the average. Herbert Chapman 1934
Chapman believed in clever players, and thought that War and what followed it was driving them out:
Football today lacks the personalities of twenty or thirty years ago. This, I think, is true of all games, and the reason for it is a fine psychological study. The life which we live is so different: the pace, the excitement, and the sensationalism which we crave are new factors which have had a disturbing influence. They have upset the old balance mentally as well as physically, and they have made football different to play as well as to watch. And they have set up new values. The change has, in fact, been so violent that I do not think the past, the players and the game, can fairly be compared with the present.
There are echoes there of 21st century jeremiads about Facebook, and one would like to have heard Billy Meredith (who played in the First Division from the time of Victoria right up until 1925) on the subject.
Certainly Chapman and his fellow veterans thought that things were getting worse. If they were right, that has interesting implications for the debate about when England and Scotland were caught by the rest of the footballing world. England and Scotland were caught in two phases – in playing potential, they lost their outright lead by 1928, but their psychological advantage endured for another twenty years, preserved in part by the Second War. But Chapman has England in retreat while the others catch up:
It is sometimes said that, if the old players were to come back, they would show up the limitations of today. But there is no coming back. I know how boldly and confidently the old-timers speak of their prowess, and how they are inclined to belittle present players. To support their arguments they point to the difficulty of the selectors in trying to build up a stable international side. England teams come and go. From one season to another they can scarcely be recognised. They have, unfortunately, to be altered from match to match. Men good one day fail the next. They do not even play consistently in their club form. This is one tell-tale piece of evidence of how football has changed.
For such a great man, Chapman is frustrating on specifics. This is the man who, along with Buchan, pioneered the use of the third back in 1925, the last significant footballing innovation by an Englishman until the advent of Simon Clifford, but this is as close as he comes to telling us what the game was once like:
I am not prepared to depreciate the men of today, being fully conscious of the many matters which have added to their difficulties. Competition has heightened enormously, and it is no longer possible for men or teams to play as they like. Thirty years ago, men went out with the fullest licence to display their arts and crafts. To-day they have to make their contribution to a system. Individuality has had to be subordinated to teamwork. Players have to take part in many more matches and the strain on their physical resources has greatly increased.
Licence, artistry, creativity and the Old Days: I’ve heard the tale told of the 1950s in the 1970s, of the 1960s in the 1980s, and, heaven help us, of the 1970s ever since.
But Chapman’s not the only guilty party here. Other Edwardian bosses wrote about the game without any real hint as to the tactics they employed – if any. John Cameron played for Queens Park, Everton and Spurs before managing at White Hart Lane in the early Edwardian period. His account of football management, written in 1905, uses a word most of the writers of the day bandied about undefined – combination:
Even if he succeeds in obtaining a team of stars – every player an acknowledged master – it does not follow that the combination as a whole will be successful. A team that appears invincible upon paper has an exasperating way of disappointing expectations. And when this is the case, the manager has to sally forth again in quest of fresh talent.
Cameron talks purely in terms of his first team – nowhere in his (by his own admission truncated) essay does he think in terms of a squad as such, despite most clubs of the day keeping 20+ professional players on their books at any one time. Nor does he indicate that his first team might be directed in different ways for different opponents or phases of play.
R.S. McColl, the Edwardian Scottish international who went on to found the eponymous chain of newsagents, was a little more helpful, if pedantically so, writing in 1913:
It is so much of a truism nowadays that combination in football – as in many other things – pays best, that it appears almost superfluous to urge its importance.
Successful combination, Bob explained, described the
team whose advantages of physique, head, and experience dovetail best.
What about tactics?
Too rigid a system of play, in which all the moves are known, will not do. There must be flexibility; endless variety and versatility, constant surprises for the other side. System must be inspired by art and innate genius for and love of the game.
McColl establishes for us, then, that creativity was a strong value in the play of top Edwardian teams (and you can see him in the film above). It’s creativity within a system. But what system? Once again, we have no word. Either there was no system as we would understand it, or he assumed that we would know what it was.
Kenneth Hunt, who was an ordained priest, was one of the last amateurs and Oxford men to win an FA Cup – scoring a “wonder goal” in the process for Wolverhampton Wanderers at Crystal Palace in 1908. He’d play twice for England in 1911, keeping his amateur status throughout.
Writing in the same year as McColl, Hunt at once said more than anyone else about the actual tactics of Edwardian soccer and also hinted at something eternal at the heart of the game’s soul: reading him, I wonder to what extent tactics have ever changed at all:
..there are two generally prevailing styles of forward play, which we will here describe as the “three inside,” and the “wing to wing” game. Which is the more dangerous style of play it is difficult to say; each has its own advocates, and personally, I unhesitatingly plump for the “wing to wing” method of attack. In this style of play the wing-forwards lie as wide as possible on the touch-lines, ever on the look-out for those swinging passes, which they know their insides will give them at the first opportunity. The whole danger of this method lies in its suddenness. For myself, I prefer to see the centre-forward slightly in advance of his two insides, and the wing-forward considerably in front of the centre.
The plan of attack is then something as follows: Should the centre-forward receive the ball he swings it well out to one of his outsides, but in such a way that the wing-forward has to run ahead to receive it. In the meantime, the three inside men are all making tracks as hard as they can go for their opponents’ goal, and so are probably in time to reach the centre as it comes skimming across.
In the other style of play, most of the attack is carried on by the three inside men, and the outsiders are only used as a last resort. This kind of game is prettier to watch, but my experiences as a half-back tell me that it is much easier to checkmate thatn the more open style of play, which is far more likely to flurry the opposing defence.
To which some Arsenal fans will say yea.. and Alf Ramsey’s shade nay.. and Chelsea fans both, remembering Mourinho’s Chelsea team of Duff and Robben and the team that followed after.
But what matters is that you can picture what those two approaches would have looked like, and, with that in mind, it’s possible to watch that Newcastle-Liverpool clip again with a more enlightened eye.
The choice between going via the wings or down the middle took place in the context of an evolved 2-3-5, according to J.C. Gow, who – writing in 1913 once again – put the formation into historical context:
The whole plan of Soccer at its best is based on perfect combination and clear understanding between the members of the eleven. (Ed: as everyone keeps saying). Both as regards attack and defence does this statement hold true. There have been many changes made in the last forty years, both with respect to the number of players in various departments and as to their duties. But I believe, if you went into the matter closely, you would find that in every case each change made has been entered on with the view to strengthening the combination of the eleven as a whole, rather than with the idea of making it possible for this or that man to score individually. You may recall that in past years there used to be only one back and one half-back. This disposition of the forces was altered as time went on so as to afford finer combination and strength, until today, by having a team arranged in the shape of five forwards, three halves, two backs and a goalie, we have probably got as effective and powerful a combination for Soccer as can possibly be used or suggested.
Note that sense at the end there of arrival, of satiation: football, in Gow’s eyes, had reached a tactical end of the road, and now all that remained was to fit the best set of players to the (found) best tactical layout. Edwardians didn’t discuss tactics because they were at the end of four decades of fast, decisive, and above all, player-led, change. That change had led them to a final solution as they saw it to the football tactics problem.
In Edwardian football, therefore, formation and tactics were more or less the same thing, leaving a choice between attack down the middle or attack from the side. The players themselves had worked this out, almost by accident, by unconscious evolution: there is something redolant of Malcolm Gladwell or Steven Johnson about this process.
After 1919, Chapman’s “heightened competition” would take the matter out of the players’ hands and – in effect – place it into his hands and Charles Buchan’s.
It is still a shame that we don’t have fifteen minutes of Chapman’s favourites, Edwardian Newcastle, filmed from height, instead of the two or three minutes shot from one point on the ground. Perhaps, to get a true feel for what that lost side were like to watch, we need to look elsewhere.
As Jonathan Wilson has made clear, not every country switched to the third back game in 1925. The South Americans persisted with 2-3-5 into the 1950s, and its perhaps to them that we must turn to find us the ghosts of Edwardian Newcastle. Fortunately, film of Uruguayan and Brazilian football of the 1920s was done well. It won’t be a direct equivalent, but this was the generation of players who learned the game at the hands of the first British coaches to travel abroad. It might be closer than we think. Remember; 2-3-5, freedom, and artistry:
Uruguay here are using the same kit, the same ball, the same rules as the British teams, but are doing so uninterrupted by World War One and the burden of a 38 game league season. Would a 1920s Newcastle have been like this, absent Sarajevo? Chapman might have liked to think so.
There’s one other thing to say about Edwardian 2-3-5. As we’ve noted, it emerged from the pure experience of players, finding how the game evolved just through their interaction with it on the pitch over 40 years. That alone would indicate that there might be something inevitable about the formation, something that still exists down there buried beneath the modern game. Perhaps 2-3-5 has a way of emerging uninvited, an example of what bad poets call a palimpsest. Watch Italy attack in 2006 and see how their front line behaves, and remember what Kenneth Hunt said so long ago: there is wing play, and there is the three men through the centre…
We end the year in darkness. Or on a dark topic, at any rate.
In Glasgow and Edinburgh, 1909 began with the outbreak of “smog” – the sticky, intrusive and often lethal combination of coalsmoke and fog – that led not only to the coining of the term, but to an estimated 1,000 deaths.
The deaths themselves were hidden, elusive tragedies: The Scotsman notes only that the unusual weather had closed ports and railways, stopped ferries and hindered work in the docks. But the reports go on day after day.
Des Voeux, who actually came up with the word “smog”, spent a lifetime campaigning for clean air. Two years later, in London, he wrote to the Times after a particularly bad Sunday:
How long – oh, how long! – will the people of London continue to endure the murkiness and gloom of its winter months, the fogs that turn daylight into a darkness worse than night, and the dirt which penetrates into all houses and covers the rooms with a film of sticky filth which only arduous and continuous labour can remove?
What he says next casts light, surely, on what must have been a constant, now hidden, factor in the life of football clubs in the period. Imagine as you read that he is discussing Saturday, not Sunday, and that kick-off is at 3:
As I write (at 2pm) we are in complete darkness, the whole house lighted artificially, the daylight being absolutely blotted out by a black cloud overhead, produced, not by a threatening storm, but by the smoke that has been formed from the fires that have cooked the Sunday luncheons or dinners of 6,000,000 million people.
The tone of the protester rings the same from age to age:
At 8 o’clock this morning the air of St James’s Park was clear, by 9 darkness was coming on, and by 1 o’clock it was nearly complete. Sunday fog and darkness are always an hour later than week-day fog, thereby indicating their origin from the domestic hearth.
What this implies is, of course, that a football ground to the east of central London would stand every chance, in the right (wrong) conditions of being blacked-out long before the game was underway. But there are few reports of matches being abandoned because of fog in these circumstances. That can only mean that men were made to play in conditions that were dangerous for their health.
Given that we have records of men like Thomas Bradshaw who, having contracted tuberculosis, played on for his club until shortly before his Christmas Day 1899 death so that he could feed his family, this is no surprise.The same fate overtook Herbert Chapman’s England international brother, Harry.
Players had little choice, or at least were driven by a self-sacrificial zeitgeist to forgo what choice they had. Contractually, they had to play or forfeit their income. The physical courage this required was matched, in black-and-white fashion, by the financial corruption and profit-taking typical of club owners before the First World War (I don’t mean that clubs were, horror of horrors, privately owned, but that good business practice was even more of a stranger to the game in this period than it became thereafter).
Others, not much better paid, but unencumbered by a carry-on-regardless culture, found their own solutions to the smoke. Arthur Clark was a schoolmaster in Manchester in 1913. Robert Roberts, who was a slum child in Salford at the time, remembers queuing for coke beside the hot walls of a plant, smoke (not steam) billowing down over the line of women and children, filling their lungs and covering their clothes with soot. Clark lived as far out as he could, but even so:
Early in March I had given notice (to his landlady); I had endured influenza twice in two months and was utterly weary of a Manchester suburb with its damp and its early spring fog. So I decided to live for a few months under canvas. Of course, my friends told me I should die, but a kindly colleague helped me to collect my outfit, and on March 16 I started my camp in a little village some sixteen miles south of the city..
It didn’t go well, at least not at first:
It certainly was cold. For days we woke up in the grey morning to find the water in the buckets at the tent door frozen. We had to get up before six o’clock if we were to get our breakfast, clean up the tent, cycle sixteen miles (the last four over badly-paved streets), and turn up bright and early for nine o’clock prayers.
It still beats turning out on a Saturday with TB.
But getting back again at night was worse. Five hours of steady teaching is tiring, the journey back to camp was uphill, and the usual south-west anti-trade made all the hills seem stiffer. And when we arrived it was to find a cold, damp, unlit tent with a door that flapped mournfully in the wind.
Things improved in the summer, which was a good one, as was the summer following until it was interrupted by the outbreak of war.
Peter Watts’s recent visit to Whitgift showed a football returning by inches to being a true national game, involving, like cricket and racing, everyone regardless of income and background (the bulk of the 2005 Ashes winners were state-educated incidentally).
What it wasn’t, and couldn’t have been, was a comment on the level of intelligence within football.
It’s probable that the spread of intelligence levels of every kind in football matches the spread of intelligence in society in general. At the same time, it’s fair to say that there’s a perception that British football could “show more intelligence”. The traditional attitude that “Only a horse can become a jockey” is troubling not just because the likes of Wenger, Ericksson and Mourinho prove it wrong, but because it contains within itself the seeds of its own stupidity. British clubs, it says, end up managed by Bottom.
The best British managers, of course, are up there with the Wengers. You might even describe a golden age stretching from Matt Busby through Shankly, Revie, Taylor and Clough until you get to David Moyes of our own era. When you start looking for footballing unintelligence, it melts away, loses you in the back streets, the alleys and the courts..
My theory has been that football is where the English, with all their Nobel Prizes and world-changing invention and colossal literacy, go to to be stupid. However clever we are, we aren’t going to show it in football. It’s different for the Scots and Irish, and probably the Welsh too.
What to make of John Cameron’s take on the issue then, in the Penny Illustrated Paper of September 26th 1908?
There was a time when the player was not an educated man, as he is today. He is very often a gentleman by instinct and nature, and particularly a good sportsman. You have a man like Fleming, the Swindon centre-forward. He is saving up his money to become a clergyman; Alex Glen, the old Southampton and Tottenham player, saves all the money he can to prepare for the medical profession; while Charlie O’Hagan, the Irish international captain, gave up a good position in the Civil Service in order to play the game.
Cameron’s was a small sample, but similar tales emerge from Herbert Chapman’s squad at Huddersfield 15 years later.
Let’s not forget that universal secondary education was a post-War phenomenon. My great aunt Violet failed a grammar school scholarship at the age of 12 owing to nerves and indigestion on the day. She spent her next fifty years sewing for what became Debenhams, and hated it. In retirement, she lived in a terraced house that shared a wall with a sewing factory, and spent the rest of her days listening to the Singers murmuring at her through the Bedfordshire brick.
Likewise, Alfred Williams, author, poet and folksong archivist, found himself unable to escape hard labour at Swindon works until his health got too bad for him to continue.
If free education wasn’t available to those who had the ability to take every advantage of it, then you had to find another way. Cameron’s terse, typically judgemental paragraph shows how that surplus income that football provided could go into education and retraining. If you had your wits about you, and could set yourself career targets, and were lucky with your club and injuries, it could be done. You had the money and the spare time. Football was a window of opportunity.
Edwardian football presented a few smart men with fresh opportunities of its own. John Cameron managed Spurs, although – as I’ll be writing about in a little while – what that meant in 1900 was different to what Aidy Boothroyd does now. You could try journalism. Cameron had his eye on that almost from the beginning. In May 1902, “Banshee” of the PIP, Cameron’s future employer, records:
Late on Monday I received a telegram from Mr John Cameron stating that he had signed on Houston, of the Heart of Midlothian, as centre-forward for the ‘Spurs. The new man is not a whit inferior to Sandy Brown, and the ‘Spurs will be as strong as ever.
So did Herbert Chapman, whose Daily Mirror columns were collected in book form after his premature death in 1934. Cameron, by now writing for the PIP, took a proprietorial interest in Chapman, who’d played for him at Tottenham in his last years at the club:
They (Northampton Town, Chapman’s first club as manager, here winning in 1908) thoroughly deserve the position they have got, for their supporters are always to the fore, no matter how the side is doing. To Manager Chapman, one of my Old Boy Spin Brigade, the honours are largely due.
But on the whole, football did not and does not offer a lifetime’s career path to British players – which applies as much to the women’s game as to the men’s. Nor is there any great feeling that it ought to. So, like the armed forces, football continues to spit its children out in the end to sink or swim.
Perhaps this is where the public schools, who can afford to be career-orientated, come in. Can they create a viable lifetime career model for professional sport that works for everyone who goes into it, from whatever background? Or will they mimic the FA, who have largely ignored the problem for the last 120 years?
Before the FIFA World Cup of 1930, the Olympic Games football tournament represented the first organized attempt to stage a world championship. Even as early as 1908, that’s precisely what it was, featuring the United Kingdom, France, Holland, Sweden and Denmark. Only the withdrawal of Hungary and Bohemia before the tournament started prevent 1908 from boasting a full house of serious footballing nations of the time.
British football was familiar with continental opposition, and British coaches worked in Europe, but the Olympic experience was a contrast to the usual experience of the British, the only country to play their sport on a genuinely global scale. One way to interpret the four home Associations’ suspicion of the nascent FIFA is to remember that to join what was then a Europe-only organization was to seriously narrow your horizons.
John Cameron treated the whole Olympic exercise with a kind of tired wariness:
The Olympic games are over, and have, I think, come to an end to the great relief of everybody.
I take it we won’t have to watch out for his shade, then, come 2012. They didn’t have to in 1948, or if they did, the reports have been lost..
His report of the tournament is made in that over-wordy, stylised, comma-pocked style of the Edwardian sports journalist. It makes for heavy going. So there’s a kind of satisfaction when his predictions for the future of the European game go horribly awry:
France sent two teams, and one of these met Denmark on Monday; but the result only served to demonstrate that our French friends are never likely to do much at our winter game. (..) What struck one about the French side was that they were too polite, and too fond of smoking the eternal cigarette. They puffed away right up to the start of the match, and in the interval had another smoke, finishing up the day by repeating the practice. How different with our sides! Why, when I had an important match on, I did not smoke for a day or two before or a day after; but our friends do not believe in this. It was impossible from their two displays to believe that the game will ever make much headway in France. (Ed: more on JC and smoking here).
Cameron prefers a more wholesome, manly sort of fellow:
Mr Charles Williams, who trained Denmark, is not only a very able tutor, but he has also had the advantage of very wide and varied experience. Last year he was the goalkeeper for Brentford, but before that he had been at Norwich, Woolwich, Tottenham and Manchester City. He is one of the few players who can take the platform, and also write a very readable article for the Press. He has lectured to referees, is a good wicket-keeper, a total abstainer, and a member of the YMCA.
(When “Charlie” Williams – the first keeper to score from open play with a Shilton-esque long punt at Roker Park – signed for Spurs, it was at the behest of the Spurs manager, one John Cameron).
If the only version of football history you’d had was the good old days of loyal players version, that string of clubs run up by Williams might come as a surprise. It shouldn’t. Professional careers were often short in the period – seven years was a good run, and contracts ran for a year at a time. The other British coach at the Olympics, Holland’s Edgar Chadwick, had that kind of life:
He was born at Blackburn nearly forty years ago, made a great name with the Rovers, and improved on it when he joined Everton, in whose ranks he was when he began his international career. He then came South, and joined the “Saints,” and was a very great favourite at Southampton. After, he went to Liverpool. As an inside-left he was one of the grandest players that ever stepped on the field to do battle for England.
That’s to understate matters. Chadwick played for both Blackburn teams, Everton, Burnley, Saints, Liverpool, Blackpool, Glossop and Darwen. The move to Southampton is the interesting one here, because it coincides with the Football League’s imposition of a maximum wage. Chadwick followed the money.
Even then, Saints were a club with a ceiling on their growth. The board looked towards London, and heard the brass calling. When Chelsea was founded in 1905, it stole the Dell’s chairman, manager and a number of players. Chelsea’s first captain was John Cameron too, but not our one. Chelsea’s was an Alf Ramsey lookalike whose prose style was eerily similar to his namesake’s.
At the turn of the century, the Football League was considered as a Northern, not a national, league – and creation of a “national” league was the subject of some debate. Cameron favoured a split between North (Football League), South (Southern League, including Southampton) and London (for whom he favoured a separate division). The Southern League, able to pay players above Football League rates, became a real competitor for a brief period, which saw Southampton reach an FA Cup Final, and Tottenham, led by one John Cameron, actually win the trophy outright. Sheffield United were the afterthoughts on both occasions.
It didn’t last: the Southern League soon had its own maximum wage, and football sealed itself off from middle class involvement for the rest of the century. Only now, in the form of Frank Lampard, do we see the best kind of public school man bringing proper values back and leading the line for the old country.
Cameron was right about the Dutch, in the end, but not for more than half a century. Dutch football remained in a kind of amateur doldrums right through to the emergence of Cruyff and Ajax. Nevertheless, Cameron saw something in the 1908 Dutch – was it anything like what would come all those years later?
What, however, surprised everybody, was the excellent form shown by the Dutchmen against the United Kingdom, and it came as a distinct surprise. During the first half it looked a very open matter. The visitors had a splendid goalkeeper, and a very good half-back division, and had the Holland side been as good in front of goal as in the mid-field they would probably have won… It must be remembered that for forty minutes the Dutchmen kept out their opponents, and this in itself was an excellent performance. Hague, Rotterdam, Dordrecht, and Delft have all excellent clubs, and there appears to be a very bright future in store for the game.
He liked the Swedes, too, but that would be a different story. Sweden showed well at all of the early Olympic tournaments, and came 4th in the 1938 World Cup in Italy. For a country of their size, they have an excellent international record and a string of genuinely memorable players. Nonetheless, the UK stuffed Sweden in 1908 in what is still a record result – 12-1. But then this happened:
One of the most delightful episodes of the week was the way in which, after their defeat, the Swedes turned round and gave three hearty cheers for the English side, who appeared quite taken by surprise, and responded in a very half-hearted manner. But all through the week the attendances have been so bad that it was almost like looking for the needle in a haystack to find out where the people were.
It’s at that point that Cameron, a Scot, stops referring to the “United Kingdom” and reverts to his native “English”!
The English they were – the 1908 winners were the England Amateur side playing as “Great Britain” (not as Cameron’s “United Kingdom”). Something there for a Scot, or a Welshman, or at the time an Irishman, to resent. “England” – calling themselves England this time – retained the trophy in 1912. They haven’t shut up about it since.
(Cameron fans may like to know that the full text of his book Association Football and How to Play It can be read online by clicking the link. His weekly column for the Penny Illustrated Press can be read via the British Library’s British Newspapers archive – it’s free material. He is also responsible for large chunks of the entertaining, groundbreaking but headache-inducingly badly written Association Football and the Men Who Made It, (1905) which is now really only found in national libraries.)